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21 Jun 2010

The BP spill could scuttle the legacy of the first black presidency

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June 21, 2010 Category: Commentary Posted by:

By Wendell P. Simpson


From the satellite images, the spill becomes a massive bruise on the skin of the earth, 4,000 square miles of blood pooling just below the surface; at sea level, a creeping, seeping elephantine toxic blob, antithetical to life, spreads into the wetlands and onto the shoreline consuming everything in its path.


This is the inevitable consequence of corporations being allowed to run amok, of the culmination of thirty years of deregulation, corporate greed and irresponsible and misplaced government priorities that have put the concerns of corporate stock holders ahead of those of the citizenry. The BP spill was never a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’, and in its poisonous wake, maybe the legacy of the first Black presidency, and the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history.


When a methane leak caused the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform to explode in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, killing eleven oil workers, it wasn’t the first time that a BP project had gone awry—nor was it the first time that the company’s spendthrift, laissez faire approach to safety and environmental concerns climaxed in catastrophe.


In 1965, the Sea Gem oil rig collapsed killing 13 crew members; in 1999, BP resolved a $22 million lawsuit related to its dumping of hazardous waste on the Alaska North Slope. That settlement included a $500,000 criminal fine; in March 2005, BP’s Texas City, Texas refinery exploded after a vaporous hydrocarbon overflow ignited, culminating in 15 deaths and about 200 injuries. The company was fined $137 million after the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) discovered that the company’s maintenance and safety procedures had been cut in an effort to save money; and, in 2006, BP was forced to scuttle its Prudhoe Bay, Alaska operation after it was discovered that corrosion in its pipeline has caused a spill of more than one million liters of oil. In 2007, it was discovered that a spill of nearly 2,000 gallons of methanol at the same facility threatened plants and wildlife in the area (By the way, where was ‘drill, bay, drill’ Sarah Palin? She was Alaska’s governor, then.)


And none of that includes recent lawsuits against the company filed by competitors alleging price fixing and the attempted bribery of officials in the former Soviet state of Kazakhstan.


“(BP) has one of the worst track records of any oil company operating in America,” said Tyson Slocum, energy policy program director of the progressive policy group Public Citizen, to the Final Call newspaper.


Oil workers and technicians had constantly voiced concerns about the Deepwater Horizon’s faulty well head and slipshod procedures. Those warnings were never heeded, pshawed instead by BP CEO Tony Hayward and his brain trust of ne’er do well bean counters.


Even on the day of the explosion, diligent and concerned rig workers continued to complain about back pressure being exerted on equipment. Again, their concerns were ignored.


President Obama has visited the beleaguered Gulf Coast area several times since the disaster—and he does so amid criticism that his ‘too little, too late’ response recalls George Bush’s slug-like reply to Katrina. The president, for his part, has been cautious and noetic in his response to the crisis—it has never been Obama’s style to go gangsta on a mo’ fo, anyway, even when he should—which doesn’t always fly with a restless, pissed off constituency that would seemingly prefer the indelicate and clumsy manhandling of a cowboy to the subtle touch of a lover and a scholar.


Instead of bashing BP’s brains in, figuratively speaking, Obama has entrusted the company with fixing its colossal mess, which is really akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Not that that is an innovative concept for Obama: his tepid and toothless Wall Street and health care reform bills have both put our physical and economic health back into the greedy hands of those who did us in in the first place


In the meantime, BP’s idea of a fix is quite typically corporate: play the blame game with Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon, lie and lie and lie and lie some more, and deny and BS some more, and offer 5-year-old kid-like excuses for its incompetence and swear on a stack of Bibles and a St. Christopher’s that it will bear the full burden of the fix in a responsible way—except that everyone of its efforts so far—the top kill, and the containment dome have met with abject failure.


The bottom line is, greed lives in the moment; it doesn’t consider the inevitability. Remember Union Carbide and the Bhopal catastrophe? Remember Exxon Valdez? The corporations have aspirations that far exceed their intellectual and technological ability to contain a problem. Add to the equation the venality of government officials whose lack of conscientiousness and morality allow them to turn a blind eye to corporate abuses as the cash passes hand to hand from the more than 24,000 lobbyist working the tricks in Congress, and you have disasters of the magnitude of the BP spill.


Clearly, in the case of BP, we have been in bed with a company that is not only not a responsible corporate citizen, but one that has put the lives and environments of US citizens at risk on numerous occasions, aided by policies and laws that allow the systemic criminal machinations of corporate entities to go on, without restraint, without codicil, without caveat and without consequence—until now. Now, in the Gulf, that unregulated, unfettered renegade chicken has come home to roost big time.


As for our president, well, the truth is, the Gulf spill was in the making for decades before he took office—and, yes, it clear that Obama is a moderate Republican corporatist who doesn’t want to revolutionize anything, but now, at the moment of his great epiphany, it behooves him to pull in the reigns on these entities that do business with impunity in a radically immoral way, and to begin to dismantle this symbiosis with corporations whose greed spills out death, disaster and sociopolitical and economic toxicity upon upon us all. .


The corporate ethos, which puts profit above everything else, has been allowed to trump everything else for years and years and year.s The result is a faltering democracy where the people’s aspirations are subservient to the will of the corporate interests. Obama’s legacy, in part, is contingent upon his ability to check these run away abuses—it’s the promise upon which he campaigned.


The BP spill may not be his fault—but it is his problem.

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